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The Alphabet

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Saved by Kate M. Fisher
on January 18, 2009 at 5:35:17 pm

Overview: The Alphabet


     The Alphabet is a system of written and printed language, in which each symbol generally represents one sound. [2] An Alphabet is a standardized set of letters, or in other words, basic written symbols, with each letter roughly representing a phoneme, a spoken language, either as it exists now or as it was in the past. [3] The English alphabet is nowhere near ideal in phonographic significance. There is not always a proper distinction between the alphabet letters and their syllabaries. Syllabic signs, like letters, represent small units of pronunciation, typically a spoken consonant followed by a spoken vowel. [2] The letters in the alphabet consist of some signs that have nothing to do with the alphabet itself. Things such as punctuation marks, diacritics, ideograms, and logograms, are a few examples of this phenomenon. [2] "The most fundamental distinction among writing systems, however, is between the phonographic principle and the ideographic or logographic principle." [2]  Chinese letters are usually notified as ideographic, meaning, they have numerous characters that represent meanings, not sounds. Phonographic symbols are just the opposite, due to the fact that phonographic symbols represent sounds and not meanings. 


     "The alphabet system of writing, theoretically contains a one-for-one relationship between character and phoneme." [4] 


     Alphabetic languages use the typical alphabet to make up words within our own vocabulary, along with the standard American dictionary. English is the most frequently used language within the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. There are other countries that use English as one of their preliminary languages; however, they also learn numerous other languages.


      Here is an article that counteracts with mine that will provide more yet different information!  Ideographic vs Alphabetic languages 



      Ivan Illich and Barry Sanders stated, "History remains a strict discipline only when it stops short in its description of the nonverbal past." [5] These authors discuss how new writing is not just known as a reversion. They put it in a phrase such as a new song. [5] "Thinking itself takes wing; inseparable from speech, it is never there but always gone, like a bird in flight. The storyteller spins his threads, on and on, never repeating himself word for word." [5]  Basically what the authors are trying to get across is that words/things are overlooked when reading and writing. Illich and Sanders went on to state, "Every original text is the record of something heard." [5] Writing is not the only context of speech flow. "When melody, meter, and rhythm combine with a proverb, the result is often an indestructable nugget of language." [5] Words do not actually appear or emerge until they are written down somewhere else. "Only the alphabet has the power to create language and words. " [5] The sounds and pauses between words are syllables, phrases, and strophes. They generally describe what is going on between the words.  [5] People often think that when individuals speak it is just language that we are hearing. We use language to provide speech. "Without a listener, speech could not be perceived as anything but madness, speech courts attention." [5]


     Language is different from speech.  Illich and Sanders said its different because the fact that language is always asexual, while speech is always gender-specific. [5] The convention is what actually makes things sound feminine and/or masculine.  [5] The actual vocal cords do not have a target-influence in regards to speech. These gentlemen discuss the differences in speech between males and females. The main differences in speech between males and females are: "linguists, anthropologists, and sociologist recognize about two dozen criteria describing these contrasts." [5] 


     Illich and Sanders stated that, "The alphabet records only sounds, and it is only through sounds that it provides meaning. The alphabet does the exact opposite of hieroglyphics and ideograms. In contrast and more importantly; it does what Semitic letters were created to do." [5]

Alphabets Versus Other Writing Systems


     "Alphabets can represent phonemes and thus, alphabetic texts typically remain close to the familiar spoken language." [6] When there is a large number or symbols, the alphabet can be difficult to read, write, print, and comprehend.  [6] There are numerous things that differentate the alphabet from other writing systems. [6] It is hypothesized that the body of literature written in Chinese is far greater than that printed in various European languages.  [6] "It is argued that  an alphabetic system is better because it is phonetic." [6] This is because it is clearly easy to learn and easy to pronounce. [6] William Jenner states, "It may be easier to express laws less ambiguously in an alphabetic language, but the possibilities for poetry may be inherently greater in a language that is less tied to precise replication of spoken forms.


     The alphabet and the history of it's existence comes from ancient Egypt. Around the year 2000 BC, the first pure alphabets came into existence in Egypt. It appeared as a, "representation of language developed by Semitic workers in Egypt." [1] There are numerous different alphabets that exist in the world. They either descended from a prehistoric discovery or  from a specific design. The designs are believed to have descended from the Phoenician or the Greek alphabet. 

The Phaistos Disk

     The Phaistos disk, originating from the second millenium B.C., was found by an Italian archaeologist named, Luigi Pernier. People were (just like today) curious about his discovery. "Its purpose, meaning, and geographical place of manufacture, remain disputed, making it one of the most famous mysteries of archaeology."[1] There has yet, to this day, to be something even comparable to the Phaistos Disk. It harbors great significance, especially for individuals from the island of Crete, where the Phaistos disk was discovered. The Phaistos disk has a small number of symbols embossed on it, which are comparable with Cretan inscriptions. Cretan inscriptions are also known as Cretan hieroglyphics. The Phaistos Disk can be found in the archaeological museum, Herakleion, in Crete, Greece. [1]

The Phaistos Disk- originating from the Minoan palace of Phaistos dating back to the Minoan Bronze Age

     As one can see in the images above, there are numerous inscriptions printed on the disks. "There are a total of 241 markings on each disk, comprising 45 unique signs."[3] About 45 of these signs represent pbjects found in everyday life. "There is a small diagonal line that lies underneath the final sign in each group. The disk shows traces of corrections made by the scribe in several places." [1] These disks caught the interest of numerous individuals. The imagination of various archaeologists, were captured by this disk also.  

The Phoenician Alphabet


     This alphabet continued unil the creation of the Proto-Canaanite alphabet. "The Phoenicians are the descendants of the Bronze Age Canaanites who, protected by the Lebanon mountains and the sea, did not succumb to the Israelites or the 'Sea Peoples'." [1] When they first appeared in Western territories, The Phoenicians, passed scores throughout the colonies. "The Phoenician alphabet was based on the prinicple, that one sign represents one spoken word." [1] The Phoenician alphabet helped awaken the Greek alphabet. "All of the names of the letters of the Phoenician alphabet started with consonants, and these consonants were what the letters represented." [1] These consonants were very hard to pronounce. They were almost impossible to pronounce, so the Greeks started to pronounce things with initial vowels instead. Due to this change, the letters thus stood for vowels. "This fortunate development only provided for six of the twelve Greek vowels. The Greeks eventually created digraphs, a pairing of letters representing a particular speech sound, and made other modifications, such as adding the vowel combinations, ei, ou, and o to the alphabet, and in some cases, simply ignoring vowel deficiencies, as was the case with the development of the long a,i, u combinations." [1]

Phoenician Writings


Greek Writings


      The Greeks provided the alphabet as a form of script for Europeans. "The history of the Greek alphabet started with the adoption of Phoenician letter forms which continued on until the present day. "[1] Due to this fact, the Greek alphabet is considered to be the "true alphabet." Romans used the Greek alphabet in the form of upper case letters. Romans created their own art of writing. They made numerous different styles and forms of letters. "Serifs, or semi-structured details on the ends of some of the strokes that make up letters and symbols, originated with the carving of words into stone in ancient Italy. Roman stone-masons started adding little hooks to the tips of letters to prevent the chisel from slipping, which appeared very aesthetic in nature, as well as being more legible to read. Serifs are still present in modern language today." [1] The Romans also invented "the baseline," the vertical point of origin for all glyphs rendered on a single line. "In typography and penmanship, "the baseline" is the line upon which most letters "sit" and under which descenders, letters such as p, q, j, or y, extend.  These new additions provided assurance for the Romans that type, in opposition to the higgeldy-piggedly writing of the Greeks, was perfectly aligned in rows." [1]


      As the Romans continued to write, they developed lower case letters. They eventually added punctuation to their writings. The next Roman    discovery/invention was the Codex. "A codex is a handwritten book, generally produced during late Antiquity and extending into the Middle Ages." The codex eventually was the main written medium employed. It was revered as a major improvement to the scroll. The codex could be opened as a flat page; therefore, was easier for people to read. It was easily transported and could be written on, as well. "The alphabet used by the Romans consisted only of capital letters.  Lower case lettters were developed during the Middle Ages from cursive writing, first as uncial script, a form of majuscule writing having a curved or rounded shape and used chiefly in Greek and Latin manuscripts from about the 3rd to the 9th century a.d., and later as minuscule script. The old Roman letters were reserved for formal inscriptions and for emphasis in written documents. The languages that use the Latin alphabet generally use capital letters to begin paragraphs, sentences, and for proper nouns."[1]


     The Greek alphabet came was created during the 9th century BC. The Greek alphabet is considered to be the oldest of all writing systems. The Greeks have a  history of using two different forms of script: Eastern and Western Greek script. The difference between Eastern and Western script, is that they both employed their own form of symbols. The alphabet that originated in Greece, contained 27 different letters. These letters were written from left to right, or in other words, in the same fashion that we read letters today.


[1] No Author.  "The History of Visual Communication- The Alphabet."  Retrieved November 24, 2008,

          from http:www.citrinitas.com/history_of_viscom/alphabet.html


[2]  McArthur, Tom.  (1998).  "Alphabet."  Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. 


[3]  Alphabet, < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphabetic_language>


[4] "Alphabet." (2008).  The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 


[5]  Illich, Ivan and Sanders, Barry. (1988).  The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind.   North Point Press.


[6]  Author not identified.  <a href="/http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/6417/Alphabets-and-Writing.html">Alphabets and Writing - Development of the alphabet, The origin of print culture, Alphabets versus other writing systems, The mythical story of alphabets, Modern alphabets</a>

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